As I'm sure you know, Zero Dark Thirty has received a barrage of criticism from liberals. Some of the things being said about it are justified. But watching both movies so close together makes one of the critiques most interesting.
Poutraging about how the movie portrays the hunt for bin Laden allows Glenn Greenwald to use what must be his very favorite word: hagiography - as in his title: Zero Dark Thirty: CIA hagiography, pernicious propaganda (in other situations that is what those of us who support President Obama are engaging in). But Ben Cohen is a bit more rational with the same critique.
...given what the film didn’t cover, it can only be accurately described as a completely uncritical narrative that presented America as the heroic force for good battling evil baddies in the Middle East...He's right, of course. The film was told from an Americentric point of view. And even more than that - it is a story told through the eyes of the CIA.
'Zero Dark Thirty’ is a homage to that naive and ultimately hypocritical version of events where Americans are a force for good, and Arabs relentlessly evil terrorists.
But now lets think about Lincoln for a moment. Both movies are riveting tales about powerful moments in our country's history. If Zero Dark Thirty is told from the CIA's perspective, Lincoln is told from the president's perspective. It certainly would have been a completely different movie if told from a confederate point of view, or from the perspective of abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.
But here's the big kicker...what if the story of the passage of the Thirteen Amendment had been told from an African American's perspective? One of the most soul-crushing moments of the movie comes when Rep. Thaddeus Stevens is forced - on the floor of the House of Representatives - to disavow the franchise of African Americans in order to quell the opposition to ending slavery. With the benefit of history, we know that led to the brutality of Jim Crow. Try celebrating that moment from the eyes of African Americans.
The question then becomes...do you hear a liberal outcry that the movie Lincoln was hagiography of white people? I think we all know the answer to that question. Just as the perspective of brown people was left out of Zero Dark Thirty, the perspective of black people was left out of Lincoln.
Same as its always been.
The truth is that all history is told from the perspective of the story-teller. We need to know that. It doesn't negate the importance of that person's point of view. It simply behooves us to remember that life is always more complex than that.